A Mother's Courage Saved Her Life

Updated: Jan 24

Just over six months ago, Jes Curtin gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Just over three weeks ago, she underwent a total hysterectomy. Talking with Jes you’d never know the rollercoaster of experiences and emotions she endured in the past few months. She is a vibrant, funny, and passionate Roanoke mom.


Huddle Up Moms was honored to sit down with Jes to hear her and share her story.




Jes’ motherhood journey began three years ago with the birth of her daughter in 2019. During that pregnancy, Jes’ Pap results came back abnormal. A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a screening test used to prevent cervical cancer in women. Her provider at the time told her that they’d need to do further testing after her daughter was born. Jes had heard that the follow-up testing is a procedure called a colposcopy. She heard it could be painful, noting that nurses sometimes use terms like “pinch, scrape, or biopsy” to describe it. “No one wants to hear that you’re going to scrape their lady parts!” Jes jokes. So when her medical team overlooked following up on the procedure once her daughter arrived, Jes easily “forgot” to mention it.



Fast forward to 2021.


Jes and her husband are preparing to welcome their second child, a little boy who was born this past July. Just like before, her Pap came back abnormal. “This time, my provider said we couldn’t overlook the follow up.” Sure enough, Jes had the colposcopy at her six-week postpartum visit. Then the provider called and said they needed to talk.

“Don’t let stories from friends or TikTok videos scare you into thinking colposcopies are too painful. It could be a matter of life or death.”

“My doctor started telling me all these things and I told her to hold on while I grabbed a pen - I was having trouble processing it all. She encouraged me to get my husband on speakerphone.” The results showed precancerous cells and they would need to take action. “My father died of cancer when I was 29, so hearing that word was really scary. I went down a rabbit hole of Googling terms – that was a terrible idea. I felt more informed, but I also realized that this was serious.”


In October, Jes’ OBGYN performed a conization - a procedure in which a cone-shaped piece of abnormal tissue is removed from the cervix using a scalpel or laser knife. As she prepared for the procedure, the idea of it felt violating – this notion that she would be unconscious while a team of doctors and nurses explored the most intimate parts of her body. It felt like a loss of control.


The results confirmed that Jes had pre-cancerous cells that would most certainly become cancer in time. After discussions with her doctor, Jes made the choice to undergo a hysterectomy. A hysterectomy is a surgery in which they remove the uterus, tubes, and cervix. The procedure was scheduled for December. “My biggest feelings were around the hysterectomy. What 33-year-old woman has a hysterectomy? When I think of that term, I think of old ladies. And here I was. I just had a baby. We have the perfect family. I’d spent nine months tired and pregnant, I’m ready to have my body back, and now I’m facing this next uphill physical battle.”


Recovery from the conization was tough. It was November. She remembers bleeding a lot and then passing a large blood clot. “It was the weekend so my doctor couldn’t see me. She told me to go to the emergency room. We needed my husband to stay home with the kids, so I went – alone. Not to mention, we’re in the middle of a pandemic! The ER was not where I wanted to be.”


Jes recounts the tremendously challenging visit: “Beds in the ER aren’t equipped for gynecological exams. There are no stirrups. I was told in the emergency room there was only ONE gynecology bed and that it was in use. The doctors needed to do an exam to assess the bleeding and the solution was to elevate my pelvis using an upside bedpan. It was painful – the examination was painful. The team was trying to stop the bleeding while I was trying to hold my healing body up on a bedpan. It was hard. My legs started to shake. I tried to be brave but I knew I was close to losing it.” Once the procedure was finally over, Jes recalls wiggling herself down from the bedpan and sobbing.


Despite how enormously difficult this part of her story is, Jes’ humor and strength shine through. She’s able to laugh now at the absurdity of the ER situation, remembering how the nurse tried to comfort her. “She patted my hand and said, ‘You did great, sweetie. You didn’t even scream!’” Hardly the thing any of us would want to hear in that moment.


Jes’ hysterectomy was scheduled for just a few days before Christmas. “My daughter was 2 years old at this point and she was really excited about Christmas. I remember being so worried about trying to get everything done. I tried to make meals and wrap gifts and have everything ready before I went in. It’s like I was nesting again – but, you know, for a hysterectomy instead of a baby.” Supermom.


Breastfeeding her first child had been challenging but things were going incredibly well with her second – her son was a good eater and he preferred breasts to bottles. It was important to Jes that she be able to continue breastfeeding but she wasn’t sure if that would be possible. She’s thankful her doctor listened. “She understood how important it was to me and I was able to keep my ovaries, which meant I could continue breastfeeding him.”

“You are incredible.” Her body – her story – is incredible.

Her recollection of the day of the hysterectomy is somber and heartfelt. She recalls entering the operating room. Again, Jes says that she tried to be brave but she was scared. “I didn’t have my glasses, so everything was blurry. I heard the sounds of the metal tools. It was terrifying. I couldn’t hold it back and I started to cry. My doctor come over and she held my hand. She said, 'Think of your kids.' She tried to calm me and she stayed with me until the anesthesia took me under.” It’s clear from her tone that Jes is so grateful for her doctor’s tenderness in that moment. Jes was able to return home the same day – another thing that was important to her as a mom to a five-month-old baby. “I told them, ‘If you can’t get me home, at least get my boobs home!’” she jokes.


Moms have the best priorities.


In ten images, Jes shares her journey from the morning sickness of her second child, through birth, breastfeeding, to her diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. It ends with the statement, “You are incredible.” Her body – her story – is incredible.


Jes is still recovering. She’s thankful for a quick and effective treatment plan, the supportive team of doctors and nurses who made it happen, a husband who knew when to listen and when to let her scream, and friends who stocked her fridge, fed her family, and sent special gifts in the days after she came home.


Most days she feels strong but sometimes she does too much and needs to step back. “I’ve made peace with my hysterectomy. I mean, hey, no periods!”


The scars on her body tell just part of Jes’ story. In asking her about what she hoped to share with other mothers, she stressed the need to talk about the mental wellbeing of mothers as much as we talk about their physical heath. After Jes’ first pregnancy, she worked through a bout of postpartum depression. She didn’t want to take medications for it. “I had a lot of stigma against myself,” she recalls.


Going into her second pregnancy, she felt that familiar anxiety start to creep in around 36 weeks. “I went to my doctor and said, ‘Can we just be proactive about this?!” Jes started medications and, looking back, she realizes that the medication ultimately gave her the capacity to deal with the pre-cancer diagnosis. “Without it, it really would have been too much.”



Before being a stay at home mom, Jes worked as a social worker. She often thinks of how her situation would likely be different for those women with fewer resources or no support system. “We talk to women about C-section recovery and other types of physical recovery, but we don’t talk about how our brains need to recover too. There are all these barriers women face – healthcare costs, childcare, transportation, being a single mom. At the very least, we shouldn’t stand in our way when it comes to seeking care.”

 

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. To all the women reading this, Jes encourages us all to get an annual physical exam by a women’s health provider and ask about timing and recommendation for pap smear. Ask about the HPV vaccine which can prevent cervical cancer and is now offered to women <46 years old. Most importantly, advocate for your health and make sure you follow up.


“Don’t let stories from friends or TikTok videos scare you into thinking colposcopies are too painful. It could be a matter of life or death.”


Huddle Up Moms is deeply grateful to Jes for sharing her inspiring story. We know her words will inspire others to take preventative actions in their own lives.


To learn more pap smears and what to expect at your gynecology exam please click read our other blogs Cervical Cancer: Understanding the Basics and Cervical Cancer: Prevention Through Pap.


To learn more about Cervical Cancer Awareness month, visit the American Cancer Society website and schedule your annual gynecological exam today.

 

Please follow us on social media and continue learning about ways to advocate for yourself! It's time to use your voice for a healthier mind, body, and YOU!


If you have topics or specific questions about your reproductive organs, please email huddleupmoms@gmail and we will do our best to incorporate your questions into our blogs/content.

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